Are You Capturing Your Good Ideas?

How many thoughts and ideas do you have daily which represent useful things to do or potentially enhance or improve projects, situations, and life in general? How many have you had and forgotten, and forgotten that you’ve forgotten?

“I ought to call Susan and ask her about where she stayed in Hawaii…”
“I need to write up the meeting agenda and email it to the team.”
“Wonder what marinade I’d use to cook a lamb on the grill…”
“I ought to update Bill about my conversation with his customer

Most people have (or could have) many more of these kinds of thoughts than they realize, during the course of any 24-hour period. Most people don’t get value from many of them, because they lack both the habit and the tools to collect those thoughts when they occur. If they aren’t captured, they are useless, and even worse can add to the gnawing sense of anxiety most people feel about things “out there” they know they’ve told themselves they should or would like to do, but don’t remember consciously what they are.

I’ve had thousands of ideas and fun or important to-do’s actually come to pass, and kept a refreshingly empty head about all of them, because I’ve managed to create the habit of grabbing those thoughts when they occur. Many people view improving personal organization skills and tools as a “fix” or at best a “maintenance” need. Yet from my experience gaining the habit of capturing and organizing all of my thinking can take on a much more creative and proactive spin.

Two things are needed to implement this standard and make it easy: (1) a collection tool with you at all times, and (2) the habit of processing all the thoughts within a short period of time (ideally, every 24–48 hours).

(1) Simple, small tools are required. They can be analog, digital, or both. I’ve used a note-taker wallet for years for this purpose because it has critical plastic cards and is with me ubiquitously. I also capture into my portable digital tools by grabbing thoughts I forward as new emails for me to process.

(2) You must process these thoughts into your organization system soon, and completely. If you leave emails unprocessed in your inbox, or paper notes piled up in a briefcase or notepad somewhere, the whole process is defeated, and your motivation to continue will disappear.

But if you do get the tools, use them when you think, and organize the results into your system, I guarantee you’ll have more thoughts. And good ones, too.

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. 
—Linus Pauling
Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? 
—A.A. Milne

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.



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    1. One of my bosses used to say, “You don’t need a good memory if you have a good system.” 🙂

  1. Interesting David.
    Write most stuff down – lots of ideas indeed – although some may not initially seem of interest to anyone.
    An idea is like a good book I guess, never knowing where the hell it will end up.

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